‘Tenet’ proves Christopher Nolan doesn’t know how to write a movie
It’s not a bad idea to try and have masterful director Christopher Nolan save movie theaters. Tenet’s release has been hailed as the make or break moment of the movie industry, and will determine if audiences are willing to go to the movies again. However, the mistake Hollywood made is relying on Nolan to write a good-enough script.
Look, Nolan is a strong director. With films like The Dark Knight, Interstellar, and Dunkirk under his belt, it would be unfair to call him a bad director. On the other hand, a bad writer is an accurate description of Nolan, especially after his latest movie, Tenet.
The story of Tenet
In nearly all the promotional materials for Tenet, it’s clear either Nolan or Warner Bros. was trying to keep the story of the movie underwraps. The story was finally revealed a bit more in a trailer dropped on May 21st. It was implied Tenet was a spy movie, but the mission assigned to John David Washington became clear.
The recent appearance of altered metals and objects have worried the CIA, sending the protagonist (Washington) on a mission with only a word: Tenet. It’s discovered the objects were inverted, so they’re going backwards in time. But after the discovery of inverted bullets, the protagonist has to track down the arms dealer developing this weapon and stop him before World War 3 happens.
Of course, the story is much more complicated than that, if you’ve seen the movie. But at least in the trailers, that’s the story Nolan crafted for Tenet.
From this point on, there will be more detailed story spoilers for Tenet. Read at your own risk.
What does Nolan get wrong about Tenet?
Nolan is no stranger to non-linear plotlines. Memento, The Prestige, Inception, Dunkirk, and now Tenet all break the three act structure of traditional movie scripts. Many Nolan fanboys brush off people’s confusion with the story of these films as “not understanding the non-linear structure.”
But the truth is, Nolan doesn’t know how to properly write a film, and he uses these non-linear storytelling techniques to make people think the story is stronger than it is. This fallacy is never more apparent than in Tenet.
Tenet, at its core, is a spy movie. It doesn’t offer anything unique outside of the inversion gimmick of the film’s villain, Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh). But because there’s moments of strong action and the inversion technology eventually is used by The Protagonist, people will see the film’s story as stronger than it is.
But the inversion gimmick is exactly where the film falls apart. Neil (Robert Pattinson), The Protagonist’s handler, is actually revealed to be a part of the titular organization and reveals that not only was Neil recruited for Tenet by The Protagonist, The Protagonist is the future founder of Tenet.
If Neil is in fact at “the end of a beautiful friendship” like he claims at the end of Tenet, how did Neil get all the way back in time to the first mission The Protagonist worked on? It seems like Tenet does use the inversion technology to assist them with missions, but then that also means there’s numerous versions of Tenet soldiers running around Earth.
Some people have been trying to come up with an understanding of how the “time travel” gimmick in Tenet works to explain this plothole, and the best they came up with is the “closed-loop theory”. Because the “inverted” people and objects inverted their entropy, time is still occurring as we know it on the normal timeline. The past is the past.
If anything, these Tenet soldiers going back in time are helping their past selves get to where they are today. For example, a past version of Neil saves The Protagonist at the beginning of the film in the opera house. This leads to a number of paradoxes however.
If you didn’t click off this article after reading that whole explanation, we apologize for the headache you have trying to wrap your brain around this. That right there is the exact problem with Tenet’s story.
Doctor Who fans probably remember the cringe-worthy story of River Song and everything that went down with her plot line in season 6 of the new series. Tenet suffers from the exact same issue: By trying to give a logical explanation, you end up over-complicating everything thanks to paradoxes.
Tenet is just the latest movie of Christopher Nolan’s to fall apart under a lens as well. While Inception is definitely creative, if you try to look further than the first dream level, the story starts to fall apart. Time is allegedly moving faster depending on what dream level you’re on, yet it seems like Cobb’s team has as much time as they need to achieve their goals.
Memento has easily the biggest flaw out of all of Nolan’s stories: How does a man with short-term memory loss remember he has short-term memory loss? Plus, Dunkirk introduces so many characters, the movie fails to give some of them proper conclusions. Heck, the entire clone business in The Prestige leaves people wondering why Angier had to keep killing the clone time and time again.
Nolan is known for his loud, grand masterpieces, but as soon as you try to go deeper than face value, the films begin to unravel. This doesn’t mean Nolan can’t make great movies, it just means he can’t write them.
What Tenet could do differently
The biggest mistake with Tenet is simply the ending. The movie tries to explain itself and the mystery surrounding Neil and the titular organization, and then opens up all the paradoxes that could’ve been avoided.
Had the movie done an epilogue style conclusion showing The Protagonist founding Tenet and recruiting Neil in the future, it could’ve still addressed the points it wanted to without opening up the plot holes. But at the same time, there isn’t really a good answer to defeat the paradoxes left by the closed-loop theory used in Tenet.
At the end of the day, Tenet is a fun spy movie with great action and little plot. But Nolan fans don’t go to the movie for the story, they go for the name value. So it’s unlikely Nolan is going to take what movie reviewers said about Tenet and its plot to heart for his next film.